My life Mantra is the calling to teach a better community of devotion to Jesus and reinvent discipleship. Most readers know my take on discipleship. There were/are fans of Jesus, most “Christians” were and continue to be followers of Jesus, but He desired most that we be His disciples. Christ’s definition of discipleship was to leave everything on the beach and completely follow Him, to not return to the ways of the world (as other Rabbinical disciples did in the latter part of the week.) We don’t do that much today specifically in American and more precisely as the evangelical westernized church (body of believers.)

Disciples were persecuted and in Jesus’ time almost all became Martyrs.

The preeminent calling of all of the Bible is to follow Jesus completely and become one of his disciples in a discipleship community. I’m not sure the average Christian knows of a community that fits this definition of a disciple, or perhaps even a single person. Nicodemus is a great example of what American Christianity has become. Nicodemus was likely the primary financial supporter of Jesus’ ministry and when he asks Jesus what is the next step, Jesus gives Him his definition of discipleship which leaves Nicodemus saying He isn’t willing to do that. Nicodemus is a mosaic of westernized churchianity. What Jesus desired more than Nicodemus’ money was his all-in commitment. Too often I hear American Christians talking about Jesus “just” wanting their heart. As that does hold truth, Jesus was very clear that what he desired was the heart but also the literal physical action of becoming nothing for Him. Its great if you have Jesus training wheels on and your giving big to the great American church (in His name) but Jesus is pretty clear that He would rather have all of you, and all meant everything by His definition of discipleship, and it has very little to do with an offering plate at your mega (likely any number over 72) church.

In traditional OT Hebraic thought, by the time you were an elder you esteemed to give away everything, this was a sign that you were ready to become one with the Father. Jesus sets the record straight by proclaiming that His disciples shouldn’t wait until they are elders (older wiser people) to do this. As young disciples you-we should leave it all on the beach. In other words, Jesus doesn’t even want your “treasures” of the world. Most of the money we are trying to give God or the church is not sacred but rather defiled in an OT sense of purity and sacrifice. Tainted sacrifices aren’t accepted (even if you had a better heart posture.) As an example, if you worked 70 hours that week to make that money but it took you and your family farther from God and sacred living, it represented something that had been defiled not sacred. God only desires what is Holy. In terms of OT purity sin wasn’t given to God it was figuratively (KPR -EXPIATION) carried out of the camp by the scapegoat. We wonder what is wrong with our churches – well, essentially, we are funding them with defiled money and God doesn’t honor that.

Today Christians in America say they are being persecuted. Perhaps I am old fashion, but I don’t think so. And the reason I don’t think so is because Satan (or the powers and principalities of the world) are pretty content with a bunch of lukewarm fans with one foot in the world and one in the kingdom of Jesus. If we still had disciples, we would still have persecution. Some fans and followers occasionally do disciple-type things and may experience a “glimmer” of tribulation or persecution, but likely have no idea what Paul really meant by persecution in 2 Timothy.

To me it appears that the Great American Evangelical church has mostly or likely completely missed the calling of the heart of Jesus for discipleship. Americans essentially fit the description of Nicodemus, the rich man that wasn’t willing to give up what he had to be a disciple and walked away. Perhaps Jesus still had a place for Him in the kingdom, but we aren’t told that. I doubt Nicodemus faced any persecution after his conversation with Jesus.

Let me ask you a question. Does the Bible teach that Jesus would’ve rather had thousands of lukewarm fans or a few disciples? I think you know the answer clearly.

One will be persecuted, and one will be left alone. Which will you be?

We often mix biblical words, so let’s establish some defintions:

-Trials- peirasmos often has a positive connotation associated with an athletic event -you’re going to be worked, but it’s essentially building muscle. Sometimes used in a sense of resisting temptation.

-Tribulation- thlipsis various hardship that may or may not be of spiritual nature (but can end in Joy)

-Persecution – diógmos (dioko below) when someone or something is vehemently pursuing you to harm you

Trials and tribulations often lead to Joy… but persecution it’s a little bit different… it’s Biblical affliction. Let’s consider Paul to Timothy

…and indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. 2 Timothy 3:12

Typically, in our western minds the term persecution takes on the thought or image of Saul hunting Christians. The best definition is a malicious intent to cause harm… it’s a little bit different than trials and tribulations, but all of them can take on a contronym form meaning. (A contronym means something that carries the same thought or word but can be an extreme positively or negatively. An example of this is the Hebrew word Barak that can mean to bless or to curse.) Something that is negative, when given to God can turn into something positive which the scripture defines as joy.

In Greek, the verb in this verse for persecution is dioko. It’s about pursuit. It is actually a word play… it means that we are followers of Christ but will be pursued aggressively by Jesus and then others will also pursue us aggressively in tribulation. But the contronym form means that the same verb also means to press hard after good things.  As we pursue Him, we will be persecuted by others.  In Greek, it’s really written well…

Paul is the main person we think about in terms of persecution towards Christians. I always find it interesting that he was the main source of persecution of Christians at one time, and then probably becomes the most persecuted Christian of all times eventually to martyrdom. It’s actually a little bit of a reversal of the contronym. Such a great puzzle.

So, as I often say, Paul thinks, Hebraicly, not like a Roman or Greek. The comparable verb in Hebrew is radad.  It means to beat down or to bring to near extinction. Paul is telling Timothy that as he leads others to discipleship that the world and powers will try to exterminate them.

Interesting, has discipleship been exterminated in the US?

This is where I have to come down to my main point that we don’t really fit the definition of biblical persecution today. When we say we are persecuted as Christians today, we likely aren’t. We may be experiencing brief moments of momentary trouble, but likely not persecution.

Evangelical Christian Americans might be going through trials are even tribulation, but in my opinion, none of us (or very few of us) have really been persecuted. We like to think we are the remnant of discipleship but look around. Does it look like we are living out what Paul and Jesus describe as discipleship? When Paul is planting churches in the New Testament he is sent out as an apostle and established a discipleship community where people leave the world and study the Bible for 5-6 hours a day and live in the community together. They don’t need to worry about tomorrow because they don’t have much of this world to worry about.

Now if you live in this kind of community you’re going to be persecuted.

Peter Leithart (one of my favorites) says, “Christianity is institutionalized worldliness . . . worldliness that has become so much our second nature that we call it piety.”

Leithart argues persuasively that what we call Christianity is really the accommodation of religious ideals and doctrines to the larger culture.  We have converted the Kingdom of God community of Jesus discipleship into an acceptable form of right thinking and right feeling.  But this isn’t what Jesus or Paul described as an “all in” disciple. The reason we aren’t beat down is because, as Jesus said, we have become lovers of the world.  By and large, Christianity is now the religious effort to meld with the culture instead of the call to stand in opposition to the culture – and that culture includes the Church.

We as a church are no longer cultivating a Jesus community discipleship culture.

Want more? Checkout this episode on the church…

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